MICHELE NORRIS, host:
Charles Bock was born and raised in a family of pawnbrokers in Las Vegas. It's the setting for his book "Beautiful Children," which critics swooned over last year. It was described as ravishing and raw. In our series You Must Read This, where authors talk about a book they love, it's Bock's turn to swoon. He's mad about a book that he's read not once, not twice, but three times in the past year.
Mr. CHARLES BOCK (Author, "Beautiful Children"): A woman at bookstore in Brattleboro, Vermont put this novel in my hand. I took it to be nice. Yeah, I'll probably read five pages. But once I started I could not put it down. "Go With Me" by Castle Freeman Jr. begins with a young woman, Lillian, sleeping in her car outside a sheriff's office. It's a small town in Southern Vermont. Her side window has been shattered. Her fist is curled around a paring knife.
A local menace not only destroyed Lillian's window, he also slit her cat's throat. Lillian seeks help in an ancient, dilapidated chair factory, where an old man in a wheelchair spends each day downing beers with his gnarled cronies.
Despite some misgivings, she comes away with two men: first a sly, aged fox who lives alone in a house with untold handcrafted pinwheels on the lawn. He'll be the brains of their operation. And second, Nate the Great, a quiet hulk who does menial chores around the factory. Popular perception of Nate: smarter than a horse, not smarter than a tractor.
"Go With Me" employs the simplest of setups: Ragtag underdogs take on unstoppable evil. On the way, readers get an expertly guided tour of a disappearing Vermont, one that's still occasionally visible behind the touristy sheen of roadside farms and ski lodges.
The writer, Freeman, not only unpacks the social dynamics of Vermont's picturesque towns, he also takes readers into all the places they don't stop during that fall weekend road trip: the dilapidated bar by the side of the road, the wildcat logging camp, the abandoned school bus that serves as bunkhouses, the woods of dark myths and bad men and the unspeakable brutalities that take place in the blackest night.
Finally, confrontation is unavoidable. We can't turn this thing around, says Les, the old man guiding Lillian. If we do this, we got to finish it. We got to go through. You see that.
Castle Freeman's sentences have been honed to rhythmic perfection in a manner reminiscent of Cormac McCarthy. Yeah, it's a high compliment but deserved. The truth is, what McCarthy's done for the dusty plains of the Southwest, Freeman, a resident of Newfane, Vermont, does here for the Green Mountains. At a taut 160 pages, "Go With Me" is at once wry, primal, epic and impossible to put down.
I'm telling you the same thing I told the writer Richard Price: You must read this.
NORRIS: Charles Bock is the author of the book, "Beautiful Children." For more reviews and recommendations, go to the book section of npr.org.
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